December 14th, 2007 – by: pauric_doherty
Leaving the Thailand border
Today we were up early to grab breakfast and head to the port to catch the slow boat. The trip to the port oy took a few minutes. We had to queue to depart through border control in Thailand first. After getting our departure stamps in our passports we made our ay down to the dock ... Well it wasn't really a dock, it was more of a slip way into the river, and on looking to the boats there, I started to get very nervous. The boats were only about 20 feet long by about 3 feet wide and I started to wonder what a 2 day journey down the Meekong was going to be like in one of these. When I looked at Caroline I could see the same thoughts running through her head. When standing there looking at them I knew that something had to be wrong and that's when I noticed that there were only about 3 people getting into every boat ... And the boats were only going straight across the river ... Thankfully this wasn't the slow boat, all it was doing was taking people across into Laos to the border control there .... Phew!
On getting to the other side we had to go to border control in Laos and enter the second country of our trip.
A painless process overall! Then we converted some of our currency into Laos Kip. In Laos they normally accept there own currency Kip as well as Baht, US Dollar and UK Pound. On converting 2000 Baht (about 4.50 Euro) managed to get 560,000 Kip. The next time I convert currency I may even be a millionaire ... In Kip that is!
What I though was our boat for the 2 days .... thankfully it wasn't
On clearing border control and converting currency we headed to another tuk-tuk minivan that was to take us to the slow boat port. On arriving at the slow boat port I felt a bit happier on seeing the much bigger boats than earlier. They weren't exactly cruise liners but they were much bigger, had a roof and looked much more stable than the small ones. They had wooden seats something like church seats ... Not as strong but similar. I was so glad I had taken the advice of the guesthouse owner in Chang Krong and bought a cushion for 40 Baht (about 80 euro cent) because 6 hours on this seat was definitely going to be uncomfortable.
Caroline on the short trip across the river
We also had our first experience of Laos time, as the boat was about an hour and a half late in leaving! I had been told about this as well as read it in the Lonely Planet guides so the six hours automatically got longer .... Again I was glad I bought the cushion
I had read loads of reviews about the slow boat down the Meekong being long and boring. Yes it did take 2 days to get there in total ... Well a six hour boat trip and then a 7 hour boat trip. This to me really settled me into the way Laos was supposed to be ... Relaxing, tranquil, slow moving ... A pleasant break from the hustle and bustle of the trip so far! The alternative was to take a speed boat down the Meekong and this takes 6 hours in total.
By the look of some of the people on a few of the boats that passed and the fact they were all wearing helmets in a part of the world where safety is conveniently forgotten, I was so glad I was chugging slowly down the Meekong enjoying the scenery!
The queue of tuk-tuks to take us to the slow boat pier
The trip was very tranquil, some amazing mountainous jungle covered scenery and we got to meet a few lovely people on it. Phil and Linda were on their way home to Australia from London and the conversation really added to the journey. This was the beauty of slow boating. Beer Lao was available on the boat as well ... What more could one want as you sit back and watch the scenery of Laos pass you by!
Some people were enjoying the Beer Lao too much though .
.. 2 fella's from Brisbane started to dare each other to jump overboard for a swim in the Meekong. Everyone thought it was just a boisterous joke until both lads stripped naked and jumped out either side of the boat. To say the least the drivers were not impressed, they had to stop the boat and try and get the 2 lads aboard again. It was a stupid and inconsiderate act but of course the group of lads thought it was hilarious!
The slow boats lined up at the pier
We arrived into port (or a slip way again) in Pak Beng just around dusk. Myself and Phil stayed on board to get the backpacks as Linda and Caroline went to find accommodation. They found a nice guesthouse called Monsavanh Gusethouse a short distance from the port.
After settling in to the guesthouse, the 4 of us headed out for dinner.
Pak Beng really isn't a large place and it only took us about 10 minutes to cover the entire street, before choosing 1 of the local restaurants. Both myself and Phil decided to go for a traditional dish called 'Lup' and sticky rice. We chose the buffalo variant and it turned out to be ok. Its mainly a mince type dish fried in spices and lemon. I found the lemon a little overpowering but it was ok. The 2 women went for more traditional dishes of sweet and sour and vegetable curry. Myself and Phil did splurge out a bit and even had a banana pancake each for desert. After dinner we made our way back to the guesthouse for another early night.
Our slow boat for day 1 .... number 33
This early night was forced on us because the town/village doesn't have any electricity, other than generators that each building had, and as the generators were switched off at 10pm ... there wasn't much other choice!
We were given torches though if we had to go to the bathroom or anything.
This was another thing I thought was 'cute' about Laos!
Dinner cooking in the sun on the freight boat next to us!